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Centuries-old skeletons excavated during road construction in Põlva County

During road construction in Kanepi, a rural municipality of Estonia in Põlva County, the skeletons of people who were buried between the 17th and 18th centuries were discovered. The rainwater conduits in the driveway adjacent to the church in Kanepi will remain in place so as not to disturb about 500 people buried beneath the road.

Photo: In Kanepi, centuries-old skeletons were excavated during road construction. Author: Leevi Lillemäe/ERR

Human remains were discovered when the road in front of the church in Kanepi was excavated deeper to install pipelines; as a result, the roadwork was halted and bone specialists were contacted.

Archaeologist Sander Nuut said, “When a skeleton is discovered, we use flotation method to clean the skeleton very carefully and in great detail. It is essential that all the bones remain in place, as we must then describe the skeleton in detail and photograph it.”

An examination of the eight skeletons reveals important details about the former residents of the area.

“Tooth degeneration, the presence of tartar and the loss of many teeth over a lifetime, for example, were very common. Here is an example of a woman over middle age, or rather a senior, whose upper teeth are all absent. The presence of signs of hard physical labor, such as joint wear, spine wear and spinal disc shards, indicate that hard physical labor was performed at a young age. In addition, we see common injuries, such as wrist and rib fractures that have healed,” Martin Malve, an osteoarchaeologist, said.

The unearthed skeletons will be transported to the laboratory of the University of Tartu before being re-interred in the garden of Kanepi Church.